Sunday, June 14, 2009

Andre Dubis-isms

While searching my hotmail inbox for a recipe for rosemary-soy chicken wings, I unearthed an email from a grad school professor that contained a list of anecdotes about the esteemed writer Andre Dubus Sr.

Known among writers as "Andre Dubus the father," so as to distinguish the subject from his son, the Andre Dubus who authored The House of Sand and Fog, the elder Andre Dubus is known primarily for his rich and haunting short stories. Dubus is one of those people described frequently as a "writer's writer."

What does this mean? Certainly it ranks up there with the haughty-yet-cliched terms bandied about by teachers and students of writing in MFA classes and advanced-level college workshops. Both curse and blessing, being a writer's writer is like being crowned prom king AND valedictorian. Your writing is layered, rich, resonant (oh, cliche!), your endings are earned, your characters' dialogue is never petty nor trite.

Joking aside, what this means primarily is that you are someone aspiring writers need to have in their toolbox. You have something to teach writers--how to tell a good story--as well as readers. If you are a writer's writer, you might not be well-known by the general reading public.* You might not have a bestseller, or financial success. You are a rocks glass of smoky scotch beside a fireplace while soft snow settles onto the eaves of an old house. You are special.

Another of my professors was an old family friend of Andre D's, and had the pleasure of sitting through many a Red Sox game with the old man. He used to tell us stories of Andre's adoration for the gummy New England accent, and the hardworking-hard-drinking working class baseball fans you can encounter at Fenway.

While his Andre stories were more character-driven, the list of Dubus-ism I found portray not the man himself, but the quirks of a writer and the instructions in a practice.

  • Andre Dubus (father) wrote 100 pages to "find" the seven pages of his story "Waiting." It took him fourteen months.
  • Andre Dubus always recorded how many words he wrote each day. And everytime he said "thank you." -- "28 words, thank you." OR "1200 words, thank you."
  • Andre D was at a party once where there was a fistfight over whether something falls to "earth" or to "the ground." Carver was for "ground."
  • Rick Russo said of Andre D's prose style "Once you are a Catholic you will be using that language the rest of your life, even if you don't believe in the dogma anymore."
  • Russo said that reading Andre Dubus and Richard Yates when he was in an MFA program at the Univ. of Arizona saved him--because at the time everyone was reading Gass, Coover, Hawkes, Vonnegut, etc.
  • Rick Russo quoting a friend: "Just becasue it didn't happen doesn't mean I can't remember it."

*Dubus the father's short story Killings was adapted into the movie "In the Bedroom."

No comments: